Members of the newly-installed National Toshaos Council (NTC) executive are looking forward to obtaining, in a few days’ time, the lease to a parcel of land at Sophia on which they will build their secretariat, NTC Chairman Nicholas Fredericks says.
“We are happy that the lease for the land at Sophia is ready and the NTC should be receiving that, maybe, by next weekend,” Fredericks told Stabroek News on Thursday, while adding that he was relieved at the outcome of the new executive’s meeting with President David Granger on the previous day at State House.
He also said the NTC is looking forward to securing lands on which they will be able to recreate an Indigenous Peoples’ village, which can generate revenue.
In the meeting with Granger, Fredericks said, they cleared up the issue of the land at Sophia because the previous executive did not engage government in any discussion on it and there was some confusion as a result.
The executive indicated it wanted the smaller plot of land allocated in Sophia, Georgetown to build the secretariat because of its centrality, he said, while adding that they also supported Granger’s idea of recreating an Amerindian village for various activities in another area.
The land for the village, he said, will be made available at either Houston, Diamond or Ogle. On his return to the city from Shulinab—for which he is the toshao—Fredericks said members of the NTC will accompany Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) officials to see which site would be most appropriate. “We have to start thinking about the size because if it is a village, it has to be a huge area,” he noted.
The NTC is already looking at the village as an income generation project. “We are looking at facilities, traditional buildings that could be rented to accommodate training and workshops. An Indigenous village close to Georgetown could be a tourist attraction. There are a lot of opportunities. We could have many spin offs from this,” he explained.
Noting the many “exciting possibilities” in the development of an Indigenous Peoples’ village, he said, “We can process natural foods in a small way. We can even make parakari (traditional fermented beverage), cassava bread, cassareep and farine. We can build a restaurant, serving traditional food, an entertainment place, sporting facilities and an area to showcase indigenous art and craft.”
He added, “The outcome is that the land for the secretariat has been settled. President Granger encouraged the GL&SC to work with us. He told them that we could assist in the demarcation of lands and that we could make a contribution, especially as Indigenous Peoples, in contributing hugely to the Green State Development Strategy.”
In the South Rupununi ,where the people have been mapping their lands, Fredericks said, “We have a mapping unit. We do environmental monitoring using drones and smartphones. We have a computer system in which we incorporate our findings on the ground into our maps, so that we know our lands. There is a lot that could be taken from our experiences in the south and replicated countrywide. The maps could assist villages in overcoming the overlapping in land claims.”
In current land talks with Government and the South Rupununi District Council, Fredericks who is leading that on behalf of the Wapishana people, said, “The objective is to fairly and finally resolve the Wapishana land claim.”
In the meeting with Granger, he said, “We asked for an open door policy with the ministries and government agencies to meet and treat with issues without getting pushed around.”
“The NTC can bring a lot of solutions to the land problems and to the social economic development of the people. We can work together and maybe strengthen some legislation to make sure that development for Indigenous Peoples is rights-based,” he added.
On discussions of the NTC’s “very small budget,” which does not enable it to execute its duties and extend its reach nationwide, Fredericks said, Granger committed to look into it. The NTC is at present drafting its budget to submit to government.
Meanwhile, the recommendations coming out of the NTC conference were being compiled and an analysis will be done, Fredericks said.
At the level of the NTC executive, he said, portfolios with specific responsibilities, such as health, education, mining, and land issues, among others, have been assigned to each member.
In terms of the priorities for their constituencies, he said, they have to get from the villages their economic projects and the burning issues that they need to address. “As soon as we can get these,” he said, “the NTC could start to devise mechanisms to work with the relevant ministries to see how to overcome the issues.”
Fredericks, 41, is married and has three daughters. He grew up on a ranch, rearing cattle and horses. Passionate about agriculture and the need to be productive and self-sufficient, he said, it was important for Indigenous communities to balance technology with organic farming and their traditional way of life. “Everything should be done in line with Indigenous Peoples’ values for the lands and resources and also to explore the opportunities of technology to see how we could advance our programmes too,” he said.